I’ve never envied the presidential duty of having to address the nation after a massive tragedy like what happened last night in Las Vegas. I’ve also never envied the presidential speechwriters tasked with drafting those addresses. Rhetoric fails. Words fall short. And in the wake of yet another unexplained act of violence, something needs to be said. Thankfully, this time, what the president of our nation said wasn’t completely terrible.
Well said, Mr. President…
Trump cut right to the heart of his speech, calling the rampage “an act of pure evil.” He didn’t mince words when opening his speech by saying the gunman not only killed, but brutally murdered, more than 50 people. Here, the president wasn’t worried about politics. He wasn’t concerned with how to pander to the NRA lobbyists or how to deal with party fallout. Perhaps it’s because this isn’t an election year, but for once it sounds as though President Trump said what needed to be said — and how it needed to be said.
Following the debrief, Trump graciously thanked the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the first responders to the scene. He thanked them for their courage and for their skill in saving lives, calling the efficiency and speed they worked at “miraculous” in preventing further loss of life. Sometimes the word “miraculous” is overused and trite, but in this circumstance? I couldn’t agree with the sentiment more.
In recognition of the swift effort to successfully find the assailant, Trump tipped his metaphorical hat to the teams involved in locating him. I would echo the fact that “it shows what true professionalism is all about.” Just imagining the sheer volume of rooms to search after they had even narrowed it down to the hotel the shots were fired from speaks to their efficiency in communication and tactical efforts. Las Vegas should be proud of their forces.
I respectfully Disagree, Mr. President…
The rest of what Trump had to say regarding the tragedy that has befallen hundreds of family members, and even the rest of the nation? It’s nothing more than a flowery dissertation that struggles to bring a sense of peace to the nation at large. The line where transparency bursts through would actually be a great, motivational quote—if only it were true.
“In moments of tragedy and horror, America comes together as one. And it always has,” Trump said.
Have we already forgotten Charlottesville? Or the president’s own disregard for the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico? Even post-9/11 when the United States saw anti-Muslim hate crimes rise by 1500 percent in the first year? Fifteen hundred percent. How were these moments of tragedy and horror instances where our country united?
Trump’s hopeful oratory continued, citing the bonds of our faith, our family, and our shared values that unite us. While this would be the ideal — having a nation that is united and loving even despite differences of opinions — I can’t help but hearken back to one of my favorite television quotes of all time. In Aaron Sorkin’s brilliance that was The West Wing, the fictional Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman said, “You know, black-white, rich-poor, North-South, odd-even. There may not be anything anymore that outpaces the hatred the right feels for the left, or the tonnage of disrespect the left feels for the right.” There is no unity in our country. We are a house divided once again. We have been for quite some time and the divisions between party lines and ethical stances are only increasing.
But what now, Mr. President?
The fallout from a tragedy such as this one is predictable. Second Amendment supporters will be berated by those who oppose gun ownership. Statistics surrounding gun violence will emerge in brightly colored infographics. Mental health will be addressed. The buzz-phrase “stricter gun control laws” will come into play. This happens every time gun violence is committed on American soil. And the unity President Trump is so boastful about? What little bit of it that does exist will be obliterated by the polarization of gun rights and mental health issues.
How, Mr. President, do you see unity through those divisive party lines?
Perhaps our elected leader was hoping to rally the sense of unity by pledging our support to the wounded “from this day forward.” Again, the sentiment was meaningful, but it’s not difficult to see through the superficial and posturing language. How, in a country that can’t seem to agree on healthcare because of vehement conformation to partisanship, could we possibly pledge our support to the victims facing astronomical hospital bills and years of mental health advocacy?
Former revered leaders of our country have often spoken of country unity and warned against divisions. Most notably in President George Washington’s farewell address, he warns against partisan fighting. After proclaiming that party organization should not be designated due to geographical locations, he states:
Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally. This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy. (1861-65)
The other well-known unification speech is President Lincoln’s Republican State convention speech to his colleagues in the Hall of Representatives. Prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, Lincoln gave this somewhat radical speech and referred to the dissensions of the nation as a house divided, as quoted in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Lincoln further expounded that the government could in no way endure the divisions they faced. He didn’t anticipate the Union dissolving, but he warned against the outbreak of war.
Expecting President Trump to deliver a speech with the power of two of our most esteemed leaders would be unfair. But in the wake of the horrible tragedy we witnessed in Las Vegas less than 24 hours ago, we certainly could use a unifying speech of love and support that is more than just feeble blather.